Wichita State senior Markis McDuffie demanded the spotlight with the best performance of his career to lift the Shockers to an 80-74 victory over Temple on Friday in the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference Tournament at the FedExForum.
He scored a career-high 34 points, grabbed 12 rebounds to complete his second career double-double, made 12 of 13 free throws and added two assists, two blocks and three steals while playing 38 minutes.
But Wichita State’s other senior also played a vital role in punching the Shockers’ ticket to a Saturday showdown with Cincinnati in the semifinals.
WSU wasn’t going to beat Temple unless it could solve its Shizz Alston Jr. problem. The Temple star had torched the Shockers for 18 first-half points and WSU didn’t appear to have a solution. But Haynes-Jones rose to the occasion, dialed up some of his best defense of the season and was enough of a nuisance that Alston missed all six of his second-half shots, scored just two points after halftime and even received a technical foul because he became so frustrated.
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“He’s the heart and soul of that team,” Haynes-Jones said of Alston. “I knew if I could take him away, then it was going to be hard for them to win.”
WSU coach Gregg Marshall is usually one to reserve judgment until he can observe the game a second time on film. He didn’t need any confirmation to understand just how much Haynes-Jones helped swing the game for the Shockers in the second half.
“Samajae Haynes-Jones did a yeoman’s job of guarding him and denying his touches, limiting his touches and forcing him out,” Marshall said. “You’ve got to give credit to both of the seniors. They really laid it on the line.”
It wasn’t that Haynes-Jones’ defense was poor on Alston in the first half. In fact, only two of Alston’s seven makes in the first half came with Haynes-Jones as the primary defender.
WSU didn’t follow the details laid out in assistant coach Isaac Brown’s scouting report, which informed the players just how effective Alston was when he is allowed to attack with his right hand. Yet, WSU allowed Alston to dribble to his right, plant his feet and fire off a jumper three times in the first half.
The Shockers also struggled to remain attached to Alston on the perimeter. One time they lost him in transition and he made them pay with a three-pointer. Another time WSU’s defender inexplicably went under a screen and allowed Alston to drain an uncontested three. Another mistake was made when Alston’s defender helped too far off and wasn’t able to recover in time, as Alston drilled one of four threes in the first half.
“I mean, he was on a 40-point pace,” WSU freshman Jamarius Burton said. “We had to do something to limit him.”
After splitting the job defending Alston in the first half, WSU turned to Haynes-Jones to accept the full-time responsibility. Although he gives up four inches in height, Haynes-Jones can match Alston’s quickness.
At halftime, Marshall and his assistants were in Haynes-Jones’ ear about denying Alston as much as possible in the second half. His primary job was to expend all of his energy and focus to limit the number of touches Alston received after halftime.
“We told him to force him left because he’s elite going to his right,” Marshall said.
Haynes-Jones has earned a reputation in his career as a pure scorer, but he has been an underrated defender for the Shockers in his senior season. He relished the chance to showcase his commitment to the defensive end when his coaches and teammates called upon him.
“(Alston) is a great player, but I wanted to minimize the little things that he likes to do,” Haynes-Jones said. “Take away his sweet spots. I feel like I held him very well in the second half.”
Haynes-Jones was the only WSU defender who had the quickness to beat Alston to the spot when he tried to force his way right. Multiple times in the second half Alston put his head down and drove right, only to be stonewalled by a shuffling Haynes-Jones.
The final time this happened, Haynes-Jones was shading Alston’s right hand and he still tried to beat him around the right side. But Haynes-Jones put his hands up, shuffled his feet and Alston bounced off of him, lost his balance and was called for traveling.
Because of this, Haynes-Jones forced Alston to go to his left more than any other defender. Alston missed seven of his nine shots when Haynes-Jones was the primary defender.
“Samajae played amazing defense,” McDuffie said. “He was able to lock him up the second half. That just shows what Samajae is capable of.”
Alston’s frustrations boiled over during a crucial stretch. He lost his cool after missing a shot where he felt there was contact. He chased the referee and quickly was hit with a technical, allowing WSU to take a 69-61 lead after two McDuffie free throws with 4:58 remaining.
“I got a little frustrated, yeah, but as a leader, I got to keep my head in those situations,” Alston said.
Haynes-Jones struggled shooting for the game, missing 10 of 13 field goals, but once again came up big for the Shockers down the stretch.
WSU appeared to be trying to re-enact its meltdown from the first meeting when the Shockers allowed an 11-point lead with less than four minutes left turn into an overtime loss.
Haynes-Jones nearly made the final and most costly mistake Friday when he was trying to protect WSU’s two-point lead with less than 90 seconds left, but had the ball poked away by Temple’s Nate Pierre-Louis. A scramble on the floor ensued and the referee awarded Haynes-Jones with the timeout, instead of ruling a jump ball, which would have given Temple the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead.
“I knew I had to get on the ground and get the ball back and call timeout,” Haynes-Jones said. “I didn’t want to turn the ball over there. That could have been an atomic bomb and I didn’t want to have that.”
Given a second chance, Haynes-Jones didn’t let the opportunity go to waste.
WSU entrusted him with the shot coming out of the timeout and Haynes-Jones took a high ball screen from Jaime Echenique and went into attack mode, swerving to the left to get around Temple’s big-man defender, driving straight to the rim and using his body to shield the ball as he laid it off the rim and into the basket for a 75-71 lead with 1:14 remaining. Temple never came closer.
After some shaky moments, it was WSU’s two seniors that helped close the victory for the Shockers to keep their NCAA tournament dreams alive.
“Right now we’re just trying to prove as many people wrong as possible,” McDuffie said. “We’re locked in right now and we’re halfway there. We want to. take the next step (Saturday).”